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‘Here because we care’ – nurses on strike

The nurses picket line outside Wairarapa Hospital on Thursday morning. PHOTOS/JADE CVETKOV

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About 100 Wairarapa nurses and supporters braved cold and wet conditions on Thursday in a bid for better and safer healthcare in New Zealand.

A 24-hour strike set for July 5 was announced on June 20, but was called off to give nurses time to vote on a revised offer from the District Health Boards.

After rejecting the offer, a second planned strike began at 7am on Thursday.

Wairarapa’s Vivienne Petersen and Danielle Farmer both have decades of nursing experience.

Petersen said she was out on the picket line on Thursday to ensure a safer environment for the next generation.

“I’m heading towards the end of my career, so this is really for those young ones.”

Petersen has been nursing for more than 30 years, having initially trained at Masterton hospital.

She said things were getting “a lot harder” for nurses these days.

Danielle Farmer, left, and Vivienne Petersen supporting their colleagues on Thursday morning.

“Nurses don’t have time to talk with their patients now.”

She calls it “speed nursing”.

“It’s just ridiculous what we work with at the moment.

“We need more nurses, because we’re all incredibly short-staffed in there.

“The more staff we get, the better cared for people will be.”

Petersen said something needed to be done to encourage young people to enter the profession.

“Our workforce is ageing, so if we don’t have a remuneration that will encourage them to come here, they’ll go overseas.

“We want good nurses to look after us.”

The pair said in the past few decades patients only came to the hospital if they were particularly unwell, requiring urgent or complex care.

“Nowadays, when you know how complex the sick people are in there, it’s even harder [to strike] because you’re thinking, ‘I’ve left a skeleton crew in there’ . . . you really feel bad,” Petersen said.

As charge nurse at Wairarapa Hospital’s rehab ward, Farmer said health care required a very high level of skill these days.

Farmer holds a Master of Nursing.

“Well, who would have thought 30 years ago that you’d need a Master of Nursing to work in a ward?

“There’s a tsunami of old age coming through with lots of different kinds of conditions.

“It’s not simple anymore, it’s quite complex.”

She said nurses were forced to keep up with scores of patients coming in who were “acutely unwell”.

“We’re up there trying to improve our skills and our quality of the care that we give, but the pay is not catching up with that.

“You have to be fair.”

Throughout the mediation process, the DHBs have maintained there is no more funding to fight for, with several rounds of negotiations and facilitation failing to reach an offer satisfactory to both parties on pay as well as staff and patient security.

Wairarapa DHB chief executive Adri Isbister said staff and volunteers worked together to provide services in the hospital to ensure the morning ran smoothly.

“We cannot underestimate the level of planning that has gone into preparing for this strike. The coordinators have done a great job.”

Volunteers were tasked with undertaking some of the roles required in the wards – including responding to bell calls, moving beds between wards, helping with meals, and sitting with confused patients.

Management and non-clinical staff are all helping in the hospital throughout the 24-hour strike.

National DHB spokeswoman Helen Mason said the question of what happened in terms of negotiations post-strike were yet to be determined.

“What’s particularly disappointing for DHBs is that the NZNO decided to proceed with the strike, before the final recommendation was made, and before its members had a chance to consider it.

“We’ll carefully consider the Employment Relations Authority’s recommendation before deciding how to approach reaching a settlement.”

The strike ended at 7am Friday, with normal hospital services resuming.

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